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Protestants generally have paid little attention to the lesser feast days that have been set aside by the Church – and for the most part, we have done so for very sound reasons. But there are some feast days that it might be well for us to remember and commemorate – and one of these is today, the Feast of the Incarnation (or Feast of the Annunciation).

This feast commemorates Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive a Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. Since the celebration of Jesus’ birth was set on December 25, this feast was set nine months earlier, on March 25.

We commonly think of December 25 as the day we celebrate Jesus’ incarnation – but actually, Christmas is the celebration of His birth (the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord). His INCARNATION, the day on which He took on human flesh, occurred nine months previous when Mary conceived Him in her womb.

The Church has always believed that human life begins at conception. So appropriately, it has celebrated the incarnation of our Lord on March 25 – a day that falls during the season of Lent – as the day on which Jesus was conceived.

And, it seems to me this is a most helpful feast for us to observe – and it is so for at least a couple of reasons:

1. It’s an important testimony to the world (and a timely reminder for Christians) that life begins at conception. Jesus became man on the day He was conceived in His mother’s womb, NOT on the day of His birth. In a day when this reality is widely denied, it is a good and helpful thing for the Church to stand and testify to the truth that life begins at conception – and the fact that we can do it with a celebration makes it all the better.

2 But it’s also another opportunity for us to rejoice and remind ourselves again of God’s grace and love in giving us His Son. It’s helpful in the midst of the season of Lent to have a time set aside to give thanks that Jesus came for us, to give His life as a ransom for us, delivering us from condemnation, death, and the devil, freeing us from the dominion of sin and darkness, and enabling us to walk in newness of life as lights in the world.

So, take time today to rejoice over God’s great mercies to us in giving us the greatest of all gifts! And if you can have a party, please do so! Nothing is more worthy of celebration than the coming of our Lord.

“Lord God, we ask that you would pour your grace into our hearts; that as we have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, by his cross and passion may we be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”

A Fasting Primer

Our elders have called for a time of congregational prayer and fasting tomorrow, the eve Independence Day, and we invite you all to join us. Fasting, however, is not something that we are all that familiar with and for that reason, I’ve made up a very brief primer on fasting to assist the members of our congregation. Much more could be said of course, but if you fast, please remember these things:

A Fasting Primer

What is fasting? Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from food for a particular period of time for the purpose of humbling ourselves before God and seeking His forgiveness and the restoration of His blessing. Fasting is one of the ways we acknowledge that we have sinned and deserve death.

Just as one of the chief blessings God gives is food (Deut. 28:4-5,8,11-12), one of the marks of repentance and contrition for our sins is abstaining from food.

Thus, in Scripture, fasting is most often connected with grief over sin:

  1. God called for an annual fast on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27-29).
  2. When David’s son by Bathsheba lay dying as a consequence of David’s sin, he fasted in repentance (2 Sam. 12:15-16).
  3. When Nehemiah heard of the desolation of Jerusalem, he fasted, acknowledging the judgment of God upon covenant-breaking Israel (Neh. 1:4).
  4. When Jonah preached to the people of Ninevah of God’s anger and judgment against them, they repented with fasting (Jonah 3:5).
  5. When Paul was struck down by the Lord on the road to Damascus, he spent the next three days in fasting and prayer (Acts 9:9).

Fasting is also a response of the people of God during times of crises and danger:

  1. When Jehosaphat heard the news of the Syrian invasion, he called for a fast (2 Chron. 20:2) to beg for God’s protection.
  2. Ezra calls for a fast when he begs God for protection as the Jews return to Israel (Ezra 8:21).
  3. Esther calls for a fast among the Jews before she goes to see the King (Esther 4:16).

Jesus assumes that there will times after His resurrection and ascension that will call for fasting (Matt. 9:15). In the Sermon on the Mount, He condemns the hypocritical fasting of the scribes and Pharisees, but then instructs His disciples on the proper way of fasting (Matt. 6:17-18). Thus, fasting was a common practice of the Church during times of crisis and danger (Acts 13:2; 14:23).

How ought we to fast?

  1. Not like the Scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 6:16).
  2. We must fast with sincerity – sincerely acknowledging our sins and the fact that we don’t deserve God’s food. By fasting, we agree with God’s judgment of our sins. We acknowledge that we deserve to starve to death. Fasting is an acknowledgment that there are things more important than our own well-being and comfort. God’s glory and the good of others take priority over my own comfort and satisfaction.
  3. We must not fast in despair but with holy confidence in God’s grace and mercy. He delights in mercy and stands ready to forgive (Isa 58:6-11).

What ought we to confess?

  1. Confess your personal sins and the sins of your family.
  2. Confess the sins of our church.
  3. Confess the sins of the Church in our country and the world.
  4. Confess the sins of our country and the world.

Helps: Think through the 10 commandments and confess sins (you may want to use the exposition of the commandments in the Westminster Shorter or Larger Catechism). Pray through Psalm 51; the prayer of Nehemiah for Israel (Neh. 1:4-11); the prayer of Daniel (Dan. 9:3-19); Romans 12-13; 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 4:17-6:20; etc.

Gonna miss her

Well, with all the hubbub about flags coming down and such, I confess that I’ve had to do a lot of rethinking over the past few days. This often happens to me when violent, wicked racists commit despicable crimes (and not just despicable crimes, but crimes committed against my own brothers and sisters in Christ, whose only fault was trusting the murderer who killed them) and doing so while wearing on their clothing symbols of countries (past and present) that imply their agreement with wicked presuppositions, Pharisaical assumptions, and unbiblical prejudices. And then when fellow Christians come out and demand that historic flags be removed and denounced because some wicked men lived and fought under those flags and some people who believed and stood for very wicked things love those flags, it gives you pause.

Makes you do a lot of rethinking.

So that’s what I’ve been doing.

And I’ve been forced to come to some very hard and painful conclusions that only now am I ready to acknowledge (and I’m sure this is going to be a shock to many of my friends given my past commitments and convictions, but I can’t help it – facts are facts after all and there’s no use running and hiding from them as if they’re not true, right?).

So I’ve been thinking.

And I’ve decided that I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a country that endorsed the genocide of a race of people that they viewed to be inferior.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a country that put images of overt, unapologetic racists on its currency and coins.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a country that endorsed African slavery and allowed it to exist up to and even past 1861.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over ships involved in the evil slave trade and over a capital whose leaders refused to take any truly effective action to stop that hateful and wicked traffic – even when they knew it was continuing after 1861!

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over cities which condoned race riots, public lynchings, false arrests and other persecution of innocent black people.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a nation that provoked a war that costs hundreds of thousands of lives and left hundreds of thousands without husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a nation whose leading general was not only a slave holder who refused to emancipate his slaves until after the war but also said that if he had thought that the war was for the purpose of abolishing slavery, he would have resigned his commission.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a nation whose president believed that white people were inherently superior to black people and said that he would do nothing to end slavery and had no interest in doing so.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a nation that not only praised racist terrorists who murdered innocent people but erected monuments in their honor.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a nation whose armies were allowed to rape, pillage, and kill non-combatants (black and white), pursuing a policy of “total war” with the full authorization of their President and War Department.

I can no longer support the public display of a flag that flew over a nation that kept prisoners of war in despicable, deplorable conditions and refused to give them adequate food and medical care when it was fully in their power to do so.

And, of course, I can no longer support the public display of a flag that was used in the rallies of and became identified with the KKK.

Sorry, but, as they say, “facts is facts,” and as I’ve reviewed the history of this country, I’ve had to confess that, following the logic of our new “popular front” I have been wrong in supporting the display of this flag and seeking to honor the country for which it stands.

So, I confess.

And I repent.

And now I have come to the difficult conclusion that this flag should be taken down. As much as I will miss seeing it, it is causing incredible pain to a significant portion of our citizens. It has to go.

My only question is, who is going to serve on the committee to design a new flag for the United States of America?

I hope they do a good job, cause I for one am going to miss Old Glory.

Resurrection

RESURRECTION.

Moist with one drop of Thy blood, my dry soul
Shall—though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly—be
Freed by that drop, from being starved, hard or foul,
And life by this death abled shall control
Death, whom Thy death slew; nor shall to me
Fear of first or last death bring misery,
If in thy life-book my name thou enroll.
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which it was;
Nor can by other means be glorified.
May then sin’s sleep and death soon from me pass,
That waked from both, I again risen may
Salute the last and everlasting day. 

–John Donne, from La Corona

Good Friday

A little John Donne for this Good Friday:

CRUCIFYING

By miracles exceeding power of man,
He faith in some, envy in some begat,
For, what weak spirits admire, ambitious hate:
In both affections many to Him ran.
But O! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas! and do, unto th’ Immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a fate,
Measuring self-life’s infinity to span,
Nay to an inch. Lo! where condemned He
Bears His own cross, with pain, yet by and by
When it bears him, He must bear more and die.
Now Thou art lifted up, draw me to Thee,
And at Thy death giving such liberal dole,
Moist with one drop of Thy blood my dry soul.

–John Donne, from La Corona

Apostasy and Assurance

The following appeared on the Trinity House Blog:

Are apostasy and assurance mutually exclusive? Some seem to think so. But let’s consider this a bit:

No reformed man would ever say that a man who is “saved” today will be safe forever no matter what. Rather we say, “your sins are forgiven, now, walk faithfully, glorify the Lord, love and worship Him all your days.” And we say this without qualification, because it is true.

The implication of this is important, however. If someone walked into my study and declared, “Hey Wilkins guess what? I’ve decided, based upon God’s promises, that I can live as I please and believe anything I want and still go to heaven when I die! And I don’t have to worry about anything you or anybody else says or does to me!” If anyone said this to us, we’d respond by telling him in no uncertain terms that he’s lost and deceived and headed for eternal condemnation. And if he says that we’re making God a liar and an “Indian-giver,” we’d say, “Nope, the promises of God are ‘Yea’ and ‘Amen’ in Christ. But when you deny Him, ignore His will, and walk as His enemy, you forfeit all interest in those promises and call down God’s judgment upon yourself.”

That’s a classic Reformed response.

And this response in no way undermines assurance (just as it in no way impugns God’s faithfulness to His promises). Assurance is founded upon the fact that all who believe can know for certain that they are beloved of God, forgiven of their sins, and the recipient of all His promises and thus, may rest in peace with sure and certain confidence.

Assurance is based upon the fact that Jesus promises He will not cast us off arbitrarily or forsake us for no reason. Assurance is based upon the fact that no man and no circumstance can rip us out of Christ’s hand. Indeed, nothing outside of me can separate me from the love of Christ Jesus.

But assurance is not based upon a belief that eternal life is mine no matter what I do or believe. Assurance is only for those who believe.

The rebel, the unbelieving skeptic, the self-conscious hypocrite, the one who crucifies Christ afresh and tramples upon the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, the one who despises the baptism that saved him, will surely perish – and has no right to any assurance of salvation.

This is the common position of everybody who is Reformed.

And that reality does nothing to undermine true, legitimate, biblical assurance.

One of the problems in this discussion is the view that some have of apostasy. We sometimes speak of apostasy as if it is something that comes upon a man like a flu virus. Here’s a guy who loved Jesus and was faithful when he went to bed on July 28 but then, for no apparent reason, he woke up on July 29 and was an unbeliever who didn’t love Jesus any more and yet, couldn’t tell you why. Apparently, the Spirit just decided to up and leave him and allow him to return to his “unregenerate” state.

This is like the modern view of love which views love as an arbitrary emotion that falls upon us and leaves us without reason or rhyme. So that men claim simply to have fallen “out of love” with their wives for no specific reason whatsoever. They just woke up one morning and their love had fled, never to come home again. We all know this to be bogus and if a man says this, we know he’s lying. Love doesn’t just vanish, it dies – and there’s always a cause of death.

In the same way apostasy doesn’t “just happen.” Apostasy is the result of an extended period of compromise, disobedience, and unbelief that culminates in a denial of Christ not to be repented of. In other words, no one apostatizes, unless he wants to and is willing to work at it. And therefore apostasy catches no one by surprise. It’s the result of an intentional, purposeful, and persistent choice to depart from Jesus and the faith.

In other words, apostasy is something that a person who is sincerely loving Jesus and seeking to be faithful to Him need never fear.

[This article appeared in TableTalk magazine (a publication of Ligonier Ministries) sometime before the turn of the century]

Dear John,

I trust this finds you well and prospering. Forgive me for coming right to the point, but I feel an urgency to address your last question to me and to tell you why I am “so upset” over your rejection of traditional “six-day” creation. I recognize that rejecting the traditional view of Genesis 1 is not as serious as rejecting of the divinity of Christ. Good and gracious men have embraced the position you now hold.

And I grant your contention that we cannot ignore extra-biblical insights which might clarify our understanding of certain Scriptural texts. Your admonition to me to “remember Galileo” is not forgotten. But Galileo’s observations on the existing universe strike me as of a quite different nature than the speculations of modern science on the origins of the existing universe. There we are beyond the capabilities of scientific inquiry. Science is helpless to explain miracles (which is precisely what Genesis 1 presents to us) and when it attempts to do so, we are under no obligation to take it seriously.

You have asked why God would create a world that looks so old if in fact it was as young as the Bible indicates (approximately 6000 years-old). “Wouldn’t that be deceptive?” you asked. Well, frankly, no. God tells us clearly that He created all things by His Word and created them “full grown” as it were. Obviously, Adam looked older than he actually was, the trees were created mature, etc. If God expected us to guess their age, one might consider His work deceptive, but when He tells us how He did it, where is the deception?

Further, why is it considered “deceptive” for the world to appear old, but actually be young, but honest for the world to be old even though God clearly tells us that it is young? Why should we assume that scientific speculation about the age of the earth is more honest and accurate than the plain statements of Scripture?

But your view has other ramifications beyond Genesis 1, for example: What are we to do with the genealogies of Genesis 5? There we read that Adam was 930 years old when he died. But if the sixth day was of indeterminable length, how can we know that this statement is accurate? Indeed, what are we to make of this genealogy altogether? It clearly teaches that from the creation of Adam to the birth of Noah there were only 1,056 years.

Now, you may say, “But this is not intended to be a complete genealogy, there are obvious gaps in it!” Well, surely it is not a complete genealogy, there are many sons (and daughters) left unmentioned. But even so, we are still told how old the “father” was when his “son” was born. Thus, even if the “son” was a great-great-great grandson, where are the “gaps”? And even if I grant your contention that there are “gaps” can we imagine “gaps” large enough to make you (or our scientific friends) comfortable with the resulting length of time? (Remember, science now thinks the world is at least four billion years old; can we find that many gaps?)

If you protest that the age of the earth can be accounted for by the length of time prior to Adam’s creation, that only leads to more questions. Was the sixth day different from the first five days in its length? Did “normal calendar time” begin after Adam’s creation on the sixth day? On what basis can we assert these things? Your view appears to be an unwarranted accommodation to unprovable scientific claims.

Again, what shall we do with the Flood account? We are told precisely what day the Flood began (Gen. 7:6,11) which was, according to the biblical genealogies, in the 1656th year of the world. And we are told how long the waters “prevailed” upon the earth and the extent of this terrible judgment.

I bring this up not to switch subjects but to say that we have similar problems here as in the creation account. Our scientists (some of them good and faithful evangelicals) tell us that there is absolutely no evidence of a universal flood. They assure us, the flood could not have happened in the year 1656 after the creation of Adam because the “geological evidence” makes this an impossibility. They also say the Flood must have been a local disaster, confined to the Mesopotamian area.

Not to be disrespectful (and I am certainly no scientist) but I have a few questions: How can water “stand” (15 cubits “higher than the mountains”) for 150 days if the Flood was only “local”? And if the Flood was “local” why did Noah have to build the ark to escape it? And why take all those animals on board? God told him the Flood was coming 120 years before the event, plenty of time to migrate to higher ground, it seems to me. If, however, we follow your assumptions regarding science and Genesis 1, are we not equally bound to re-interpret Genesis 6-9 in light of the scientific “evidence”?

Indeed, what is to prevent someone from doing this same thing with the account of the Lord’s resurrection? Science says that’s impossible too. I know you would not want to go that far, but my point is that the assumptions which call for a rejection of the traditional view of Genesis 1 can be taken that far. If the claims of Genesis 1 are not true, why are the claims of John 20 true?

It seems that rejecting the traditional reading of Genesis 1 leaves us with far more problems than we have taking the text as a straight-forward historical account. Accepting scientific theories as authoritative seriously threatens the integrity of Scripture. If contradicting the observations of science places biblical teachings in doubt, then most of the claims of historic Christianity must of necessity be classified as “doubtful.”

In the end we must make a choice: Believe God’s Word and live with a few “scientific dilemmas” for the present or embrace the Word of the scientists and spend our lives in the impossible task of reconciling their unprovable theories with the text of the Bible. I happily take the former position and promise to be stubbornly insistent that you rejoin me!

Please give my best regards to Meredith, Jack, and Bruce. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry for our Creator and Redeemer,

Steve

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